Kay Kirtley, director of Children’s After Hours, has always loved nursing. Kay’s mom was a nurse, and her favorite games involved bandaging her dolls and taking care of her friends and family with her first aid kit. Even while relaxing, Kay read Cherry Ames books, which featured a young nurse who solved mysteries.
But unlike the job-hopping Cherry Ames, Kay knew exactly what area of nursing interested her most.
“I loved my pediatric rotation at Akron Children’s,” she said. “Working with kids was just more fun.”
After 44 years at Children’s, Kay retires on October 22. Kay, who couldn’t get by without making lists, is replacing work to-dos with fun undertakings. She plans to reconnect with friends, read, take photos, travel when COVID-19 allows and complete projects in her century-old home.
What brought you to Children’s?
While studying at the University of Akron, I worked here as a nursing technician. I applied for a job, and Mary Kay “Griff” Griffith, assistant director of nursing, hired me.
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
Initially, I worked as a float nurse on the night shift, later moving to the school-age unit before becoming a night charge nurse. With Griff’s support and mentorship, I became a patient care supervisor, working on all 3 shifts during the 20 years I held that job. In 1998, I became Ask Children’s assistant manager, eventually becoming its director in 2005. It began as a free health information hotline staffed by pediatric registered nurses, later expanding into a 24-hour operation with the addition of Children’s After Hours. Until 2015, the hotline served as a community pediatric health/physician referral line and 24/7 pediatric nurse triage line providing after-hours services to over 200 contracted physicians in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as 26 hospital-owned primary care practices. We’ve since streamlined this service.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
While the Ronald McDonald House Akron was being built, I worked with a parents group as they made decisions about the amenities needed. I also helped to roll out and educate our nursing staff as we implemented family-centered care. Finally, I was involved in successfully developing one of the first work-from-home departments 10 years ago.
What gave you the most satisfaction at work?
When a parent saw me arrive at night and said, “If you’re here, then I’ll go home and get some sleep.” I’ve never taken that level of trust for granted.
What’s your most memorable and/or happiest moment at Akron Children’s?
After working an exhausting night shift, I waited at the elevator to leave. When it opened, one family filled it: mom, dad, grandparents, siblings and a little guy in a wheelchair. I stepped back to wait, but they invited me in. I didn’t want to seem rude, so I slipped in. As the door closed, the mom said, “But you have to follow the rules!” The rules were to throw our arms up in the air and say “Wheee!” as the elevator descended. By the time I got to my car, I wasn’t tired anymore. I drove home smiling.
With so many little children here, did someone or something especially touch your heart?
Years ago, before the concept of comfort care at the end of life became accepted, a father showed me a story about a TV character who lost her job at a nursing home. She respected her patient’s wish to not be coded when her time came, instead sitting with her and holding her hand. The father, whose child didn’t have much time left, said, “That’s what her mother and I want for our daughter.” I encouraged them to share their desire with her doctor, which they did. I’ve always admired their advocacy for their child.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Sitting under a tree with a pot of tea, a cool breeze, pets to snuggle and a giant stack of books!
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
You learn right away to keep your eyes peeled for small children as you walk, so you don’t trip or knock them down. Also, get to know as many people in as many departments as you can. They’re your work family, and bigger is always better!
What music do you like? Where and how do you listen to it?
Jim Brickman, Windham Hill and Dan Gibson’s nature-inclusive instrumentals. Also, Christmas music! That starts playing at my house when the leaves begin to fall.
What’s the last movie you saw?
I haven’t been to a movie theater in years, but do the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies count?